All it took was a matchup against the team with the league's best record for the New Orleans Pelicans to get back on track.
New Orleans ended its two-game losing streak with a 129-124 win over the Utah Jazz in Monday's Western Conference showdown at Smoothie King Center. Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball led the way for the victors, who improved to 15-19 on the season.
Notable showings from Donovan Mitchell, Bojan Bogdanovic, Rudy Gobert and Jordan Clarkson were not enough for the Jazz, who still have the best record in the NBA at 27-8 even though they have now dropped two of three.
Notable Player Stats
- Zion Williamson, F, NO: 26 PTS, 10 REB, 5 AST
- Brandon Ingram, F, NO: 26 PTS, 5 AST, 4 REB
- Lonzo Ball, G, NO: 23 PTS, 8 AST, 7 REB
- Bojan Bogdanovic, F, UTA: 31 PTS, 7 REB, 3 STL, 7-of-11 3PT
- Donovan Mitchell, G, UTA: 21 PTS, 8 AST, 4 REB
- Rudy Gobert, C, UTA: 22 PTS, 9 REB, 5 BLK
- Jordan Clarkson, G, UTA: 20 PTS, 5 REB, 4 AST
Pelicans Ride Dominant Third Quarter, Balanced Attack to Impressive Victory
Frankly, the Pelicans should be better than they are with Williamson and Ingram as All-Star-caliber players, Ball taking another step as an all-around playmaker and a supporting cast that features notable veterans such as Steven Adams and JJ Redick.
All that talent makes them a dangerous opponent for some of the top teams in the league because they can fulfill their potential on any given night.
That was the case Monday as Ingram glided through the defense for a number of looks in the lane, Ball filled up the box score with multiple threes on his way to 14 first-half points and Williamson contributed on the boards even though he had just nine points by intermission.
It was clear the Jazz prioritized at least containing Williamson in the first half, but Ball and Ingram kept the home team within striking distance and gave that talent a chance to win down the stretch.
The game flipped in the third quarter when Zion was far more aggressive attacking the basket. Not only did that help him find his touch as a scorer and put additional stress on Utah's frontcourt, but it also opened up looks for his teammates because the only chance the visitors had at stopping him was running additional defenders his way.
Considering the strength of Utah's defense, Williamson scoring 15 points as his team won the third quarter 40-24 was one of the most impressive stretches of his All-Star season. The Jazz had no answer to his power while steamrolling to the basket, and it was easy to see why there is still so much long-term optimism in New Orleans despite the poor record.
The fourth quarter largely belonged to his teammates. Redick's four-point play, Ingram's smooth release from mid-range and a stretch in which Ball drilled multiple pull-ups in the lane and a triple provided enough cushion to survive Utah's late push.
Utah's Final Charge Comes Up Just Short
At first, it appeared as if the Jazz, who may be well on their way to earning home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, were going to cruise to victory with their balanced attack featuring six players averaging double figures and a defense that ranks No. 3 in the league, per NBA.com.
Mitchell, who scored a combined 61 points in his previous two games, played the role of facilitator in the early going as that balance was on full display.
Bogdanovic caught fire from deep, Clarkson provided an immediate spark off the bench, Mike Conley darted in and out of the defense to create looks for teammates, Gobert flashed into space around the rim, and Mitchell kept the ball moving whenever New Orleans sent additional defenders his way.
It seemed to be a perfect formula, but everything that worked in the first half went missing in the third quarter.
Bogdanovic scored two points in the period after dropping 19 in the first half, Mitchell struggled with his outside shot, and the defense that stifled the Pelicans out of the gates could not stop Williamson and Co. from racking up points as the Jazz fell behind by double digits.
In fact, they were down 122-108 with less than four minutes remaining when they dialed up the pressure on defense to create turnovers and contested shots that led to looks on the other end. With Mitchell largely leading the way, they clawed all the way back to 125-124 but lost their momentum when Gobert was whistled for a questionable loose-ball foul while going for an offensive rebound and putback that could have won it.
It was an admirable charge, but the call and Utah's lackluster play in the third quarter to create the deficit were too much to overcome.
Both teams are in action Wednesday when the Pelicans host the Chicago Bulls and the Jazz travel to face the Philadelphia 76ers.